OPPOSITION lawmakers on Friday called on President Rodrigo Duterte to pursue rebellion and other criminal charges against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari despite his participation in peace talks.
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat and Sen. Leila de Lima said Misuari should be held accountable for the siege of Zamboanga City in 2013 that killed about 200 civilians.
“We must remind him (Duterte) that Misuari is almost a recalcitrant peace partner, talking peace when it suits him, and waging war when convenient, without due regard to civilian lives and the lives of our soldiers,” said de Lima, who was secretary of Justice when the government filed rebellion charges against Misuari and his MNLF men.
Baguilat said Misuari’s participation should be limited to making sure his MNLF bloc participates in the peace talks.
“He must still be held accountable for his crimes in Zamboanga and when he was head of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). His participation in the peace talks cannot absolve him of his sins against the government and the people,” Baguilat told The Manila Times.
Warrants for Misuari’s arrest in connection with the rebellion charges were suspended by a Pasig court for six months, allowing the rebel leader to meet President Duterte in Malacañang on Thursday.
Misuari led a ragtag group of combatants during the Zamboanga City siege in September 2013 that left at least 200 people dead and 10,000 homes destroyed.
The MNLF chieftain and his comrades used civilians as human shields in protest of the peace agreement inked by the MNLF splinter group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government during the previous administration.
President Duterte on Friday defended his meeting with Misuari.
“What is wrong with talking with Nur Misuari? I am a Moro. I want to talk to him because … we have been fighting for 40 years. Do you want to fight for another 40 years? If yes, you will get it,” he said in a speech during a convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines at Manila Hotel.
Duterte reiterated his push for a federal system of government to address the longstanding conflict in Mindanao.
“If the federal system will not work, there will be this thought of mindless violence,” the President said.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano admitted that Misuari was a respected leader among the Moros, particularly the Tausugs where some members of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap and terror group come from.
“He could contribute, but the success of the peace process does not depend on Nur alone,” Alejano, a former Marine captain, said.
Baguilat pointed out that Misuari finished his term as ARMM governor with the region still mired in chronic poverty.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had ordered the filing of graft and malversation charges against Misuari in connection with the purchase of educational materials worth P137.5 million in 2000 to 2001 when he was the ARMM governor.
Misuari is also facing three counts of malversation of public funds through falsification and three counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan.
Other lawmakers were of a different view.
Senator Gregorio Honasan 2nd said Filipinos must be prepared to pay the political and social costs of peace.
Sen. Francis Escudero said in a separate statement it was up to the courts to decide on the cases against Misuari but seeing him talking peace was something that should be welcomed.
“For me, it’s always heartwarming to see former protagonists together and former warriors talking peace. At the end of the day, the primordial consideration for me is for Filipinos to already stop killing each other,” Escudero said.
On Friday, Malacañang said President Duterte would sign on Monday the executive order on the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission that would resume the work of revising the proposed law on the new Bangsamoro region.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) welcomed the “positive response” of Misuari to Duterte’s invitation to participate in the Bangsamoro peace process.
“The peace process in Mindanao is on track with both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the MNLF on board for a more inclusive resolution to the conflict,” the OPAPP said.
The previous commission had 15 members – eight from the MILF and seven chosen by the government.
Based on agreements in an August meeting, the new body will have 21 members to accommodate 11 MILF men and 10 government nominees.
The commission, an independent body, is tasked to consolidate all peace agreements and legislation into one bill on the creation of a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao to replace the ARMM.